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GRACEANNA LEWIS: PORTRAIT OF A QUAKER NATURALIST Marcia Bontà* Graceanna Lewis, the Quaker lady from Chester County, Pennsylvania , was in many ways typical of nineteenth century American naturalists. Every aspect of the natural world fascinated her and throughout her long life, although she began with an interest in birds, she moved from one field of study to another in an effort to understand the whole spectrum ofnature. Unlike many other naturalists, however, her underlying reason for studying nature was based on her Quakerbeliefs. "I love nature," she once wrote, "because it teaches me better to comprehend its Author."1 It had been, after all, Graceanna's religion that had given her an opportunity to lead a more challenging intellectual life than most women of the restrictive Victorian era, for the Society of Friends educated both men and women in schools that especially emphasized the study of natural history. George Fox, the founder of Quakerism, did not distinguish between the spiritual rights of men and women since he believed that each person possessed an Inner Light of Christ as an inward guide. As a logical result of this belief Fox encouraged women to be ministers and leaders as well as men.2 In fact, many Quaker women became traveling missionaries and at least one, Mary Dyer, was hanged by the Puritans in Boston in 1660.3 With such a legacy of relative freedom, Quaker women possessed a sense of self worth that enabled them to be leaders in such nineteenth century social causes as abolition and women's political rights. Graceanna Lewis was born on August 3, 1821 , the second of four daughters, to the Quaker couple John and Esther Fussell Lewis. Her father died when she was only three years old and her mother was left *Marcia Bontà is a naturalist writer who is preparing a history of American women field naturalists of the 18th, 19th and early 20th centuries. 1.Phebe A. Hanaford, Daughters of America; or, Women of the Century (Augusta, Maine, 1876), 262. 2.Linda Ford. "William Penn's Views on Women: Subjects of Friendship," Quaker History (Fall 1983) Vol. 72, No. 2, 80-81. 3.Ford, ¿bid., 97. 27 28Quaker History to raise the children.4 Fortunately, Esther was both bright and resourceful . She made certain her daughters were well educated and, having been a teacher herself, she taught the girls until they were old enough to attend the Kimberton Boarding School for Girls which was run by Friends.5 The elder Kimbers, Emmor and Susan, believed in encouraging inquiring minds by teaching such challenging subjects as astronomy, botany, and chemistry and their several daughters helped with instruction . One daughter, Abigail Kimber, was actually a practicing botanist and helped to identify and catalogue plants in the area. So strong was her influence that Graceanna became interested in botany and even found an unknown plant in her own garden.6 Those, of course, were still pioneering times in American botany, before the days of Asa Gray and even John Torrey, when naturalist and teacher Amos Eaton claimed three quarters of the plant collecting in New England and the middle Atlantic states was done by women. Abigail Kimber was obviously one ofthem. Graceanna in later writings credited three people with influencing her to become a naturalist. First was her mother. Esther had enough interest in the natural world to keep a diary that recorded observations ofsolar and lunar eclipses, an eclipse ofMars by the moon, and the appearance ofcomets, meteors and auroras. In addition, she kept weather and plant-blooming records. Her observant nature even led to a discovery that gave financial solvency to the fatherless family. While she was gardening Esther noticed the reddish soil and decided her property contained iron ore. She was right and eventually she had the land stripmined by a Phoenixville company which paid her 50 cents a ton. For several years she received tidy sums ranging from $453 to $1 ,700 per annum.7 Esther, then, was the strongest influence in Graceanna's childhood . And the training she received both at home and at Kimberton enabled her to become a teacher of botany and astronomy at her Uncle Bartholomew Fussell's boarding...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1934-1504
Print ISSN
0033-5053
Pages
pp. 27-40
Launched on MUSE
2012-04-04
Open Access
No
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